Even though there are plenty of hip hop purists that want to separate trap from rap, they will always be connected as trap is a sub-genre of rap. Trap music started to gain traction in the early 90s in Southern America; the signifiers of the trap style became an aggressive sound, and equally as aggressive lyrics which primarily focused on drug dealing and drug use.
Instrumentally, trap separated itself from hip hop with heavier basslines, faster time signatures, prominent 808s, layered synths, and for the more experimental trap artists, cinematic strings. Lyrically, trap artists were even more visceral in their rap bars about the inescapable gang and drug lifestyles (hence, trap) than the original gangster rappers. Atlanta became the capital of trap, while Ghetto Mafia, Goodie Mob, Outkast, Dungeon Family and Cool Breeze became the pioneers.
A decade after the inception of trap, artists such as Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, Triple 6 Mafia and Young Jeezy started pushing the genre even further and allowing it to branch out into the diverse scene that it is today. Producers also had a pivotal role in the evolution of trap; the likes of Drumma Boy, Shawty Redd and Mike WiLL contributed to the contemporary trap sound that incorporates a dark atmosphere, street culture and a hard-hitting high-octane sound. At the turn of the century, trap not only dominated the airwaves, but it also became commonplace in strip clubs in the south too.
The first wave of trap broke into the mainstream in 2003 with the release of T.I.’s second studio album; it sold over 2 million copies and T.I. received a sync deal with EA sports. After his success, T.I. explained the motivation behind his career; to help people understand the actions of people that come from a less privileged side of life. A similar ethos is carried by the new generation of trap artists who are often misbranded as brash or crass when really, their music is reflective of their lives. In 2005, Young Jeezy entered the US Billboard Charts at number 2 after selling 172,000 copies of his album, Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101, in the week after its release. It later became a platinum record.
Fast forward to 2012; the trap scene started to merge with the EDM scene as producers and DJs started to weave trap styles into their dance mixes. Many are under the false impression that this was the beginning for trap, and it came along as some new millennial trend, but this is far from the case. In 2021, there are multiple trap sub-genres, even ones as far-reaching as trap metal. The most promising trappers to watch include the likes of Rico Nasty, Nayana Iz, Lil Uzi Vert and Waka Flaka Flame.